How to Smoke a Ham in an Electric Smoker: A Beginners Guide

how to smoke a ham in a electric smoker
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Christmas: the first thing that comes to mind when we see ham in the supermarket. You will find different varieties of this meat and a lot more variations on how it is cooked and served. Mostly are baked using different flavorings, but for now, we will learn how to smoke a ham in a electric smoker.

Smoking a pre-cooked ham is not as tedious as baking one because you don’t need to baby-sit the pork inside the smoker as it cooks slowly. Technically, these hams are ready to eat, but you can add fruits, vegetables, and some glaze as it smokes to add more flavor and texture to it.

Electric Smoking Essentials

Smoking a pre-cooked ham in your electric smoker is one way of bringing out its natural flavors even without a coat of dry rub. You will find a lot of delicious recipes without having to exert a lot of effort when it comes to preparation and smoking.

Before we look at a recipe for smoked ham, let us first check the things that we need.

1. Electric Smoker

First is your electric smoker. It doesn’t have to be an expensive one, especially if you are a beginner when it comes to smoking food.

Look for an electric smoker that is simple to use but has the features that you are looking for. You will find various inexpensive electric smokers that can perform well.

2. Wood Chips

The next thing you have to think of is the wood chips that will add flavor to your ham. Wood chips are available in different varieties and flavors, ranging from mild to intense ones. We prefer maple wood chips for ham because it is mild enough to use during the entire smoking process and still add great flavor. Another popular choice is a mixture of apple and hickory wood chips.

Using a real wood chips plays a vital role in the overall taste and outcome of your smoked ham. Although the real secret to a perfectly smoked food is the process by which it is done; slow-cooked over low heat.

Check out our Smoked Ham FAQ article

Ham 101

Ham is the rear leg and thigh part of a pig, and they come in different varieties. Let's learn about each of them below.

Types

Here are types of ham that you can buy:

1. Whole Ham

A whole ham weighs typically anywhere between 18 and 20 pounds. It is composed of two parts: the butt or the upper part and the shank or the lower portion.

The upper part has more fat and is on the butt side where the hip bone is. On the other hand, the lower end has less fat and is more on the leg part of the pig where the thigh bone is.

2. Picnic Ham

A picnic ham is not considered a real one since it did not come from either the butt or the shank. It came from the combined meat of the pork shoulder and the upper portion of the shin.

It is only called as such because it was cured and smoked with the same process used for real hams. It is also known as a picnic shoulder, which is an affordable substitute for real ones.

3. Ham Steaks

These are pre-sliced cured meat that came from the center part of the real, circular ham. You can buy them in retail and usually are seared on a pan.

4. Breakfast Ham

A breakfast ham is similar to ham steak but is more tender. It is also called a boiled or sandwich-style ham and prepared by either grilling or searing.

5. Ham Hock

The ham hock or pork knuckle is the pig’s ankle. This is the ready-to-eat kind since it is already pre-cooked. It is also called trotters, which is the part right above the feet. This is fully cooked when sold.

6. Fresh or Green Ham

These are the kinds of ham that are uncooked and uncured. Just fresh pork that you can directly roast at home. You can also cure or smoke this ham before baking or roasting it.

Boneless vs. Bone-In Hams

There are different varieties of ham for you to choose from. The ready-to-eat ones are available in either bone-in or boneless kinds.

The bone-in ones taste better as compared to the boneless ones. The bone inside the ham adds not only flavor but also moisture to the meat and can be used in other meals. The only downside with this type is the challenge of slicing it.

In response to the issue of slicing a bone-in ham, spiral-cut hams became available. These bone-in hams are sliced in a perfect spiral, keeping the meat attached to the bone so as not to disrupt the shape of the pork. You get consistently sliced ham with no carving needed.

Boneless hams are oval-shaped and usually sealed in foil or plastic. Semi-boneless pork is also available, which comes in either half or whole. They remove most of the bones except for the thigh bone.

It usually comes as cured or smoked. Some even come as both cured and then smoked. Sometimes, a recipe calls for a specific type of meat, so we cannot say that one particular ham is better than the other, so let's understand what cured and smoked hams are.

Cured vs. Smoked Ham

There are two general kinds of ham that you can buy or make at home: cured and smoked.

Cured Ham

Cured hams are processed using nitrates combined with salt, sugar, and other seasonings and flavorings. Curing hams serve two purposes: adding flavor to the meat and preserving it. There are different sub-categories for cured hams, including:

  • Wet-Cured Hams

Wet-cured hams are the type soaked in a marinade made from a mixture of flavorings, sugar, and salt. This type ham is an ideal choice for smoking, which can bring out the natural flavor of the pork.

However, be mindful when buying smoked, wet-cured hams. Some are just injected with a brine solution and a smoke flavoring and not soaked before smoking.

One example of a wet-cured ham is the city ham that is either soaked or injected with a brine solution and other flavorings for added flavor and preservation. Then it is lightly smoked or boiled before it is sold. City hams are typically wrapped in plastic and sold in supermarkets where bacon is usually stored. These are inexpensive and ready-to-serve kinds of meat.

For beginners, we recommend city hams to start because they are easy to get great results and among the safest option. Tip: boil your ham for thirty minutes with two cups of dark brown sugar added to the water before any other preparations.

how to smoke a ham in a electric smoker
  • Dry-Cured Hams

Dry-cured hams do not use any kind of liquid but instead use salt to flavor it. The salt creates a chemical reaction where it seeps the moisture out from the meat concentrating its meat flavor.

Dry-cured hams are not your typical ham found in supermarkets. They are considered a delicacy sold only in specialty stores and local meat markets.

Some dry-cured hams are typically stored inside a cold cellar for a year for maximum flavor and are popularly known as country ham. Storing the pork is usually done after it’s salted and smoked then coated with a dry rub.

That is why the traditional country ham is very salty. It is traditionally served in very thin slices and placed on top of biscuits. Sometimes, the meat is soaked and rinsed for a minimum of 12 hours up to a maximum of 24 hours before it is baked.

Virginia ham is another example of dry-cured meat aptly named because of the place where it is most famous: Smithfield, Virginia. These hams are known for their sweetness. It was cured initially then smoked using wood chips of apple and hickory then stored in the smokehouse to age for at least a year.

Smoked Ham

Smoking a ham is another type of curing. It will first be brined to prevent the growth of bacteria during the smoking process, then slow-cooked at low temperatures, also known as cold-smoking. Once smoking is completed, they are stored in the smokehouse for days for the flavors to permeate the meat thoroughly.

How to Smoke a Ham in a Electric Smoker

Electric smokers prove to be the most straightforward smoker to use as compared to other types of smokers like homemade smokers, charcoal, and smoking pits. It is also more consistent in providing the right smoking temperature. However, The top temperatures in an electric smoker can be an issue for some items but not when using a pre-cooked ham.

Before smoking a ham, though, you need to choose the type of ham you would use, as well as know how long you should smoke the ham of your choice.

The Ham to Use

If you want your smoked ham to look and taste better, make sure that you buy premium quality hams for smoking. If you can’t choose between fresh and a pre-cooked one, determine first if you want the natural pork flavor seasoned with salt and pepper or you want the enhanced taste of a cured ham.

Whichever type you choose, know that you can smoke both types using your electric smoker. There’s not much difference with the way they are smoked, except that the fresh ham will take longer to smoke compared to pre-cooked meat. Be very vigilant, though, when smoking pre-cooked hams to avoid burning and ruining the ham.

Fresh hams, on the other hand, require preparation before smoking. The way you prepare the fresh ham determines its final taste.

You can find a lot of recipes on the internet that will cater to your tastebuds’ preferences. Generously coat the ham with the dry rub of your choice. You can also inject some flavors into the meat for more savory pork.

Smoking Time

The prevailing concern of those smoking a ham in an electric smoker for the first time is the amount of time they need to cook it perfectly. The first thing that you have to consider is how big your ham is and the way your electric smoker functions. Check the user’s manual and the recipe you are following for appropriate guidance.

You usually need four to five hours of smoking time if you are smoking a fresh ham. Over-smoking a ham leaves a bitter taste on the meat. To avoid the bitter taste only add wood chips for the first two hours.

The secret of smoking pork or any other kind of food is simmering it over low heat.

The Method

Now that you're ham is ready and you have an idea how long to smoke it, here is a step-by-step guide on how to smoke a ham in a electric smoker:

  1. Load the required amount of wood chips into the smoker box according to your smoker’s manual.
  2. Set the temperature of the electric smoker at 225 degrees Fahrenheit and preheat for 30 minutes.
  3. Add your chosen spices and rub your preferred sauce to the ham.
  4. Arrange the ham on top of the grill grate and set the timer for 1.5 hours.
  5. Turn and smoke the other side of the ham for another 1.5 hours.
  6. After smoking the ham for three hours, check if you are satisfied with its doneness.
  7. You can add an hour or two to the smoking time if you are not yet satisfied with the outcome.
  8. Take the ham out of the smoker and transfer it to the serving platter.

Some Reminders When Using an Electric Smoker

Here are a few tips to remember when using your smoker:

  • Don’t forget to continually check on the wood chip loader if it needs replenishment. That said, you should also decide how much smoke flavor do you want for your ham. 
  • Experiment with different recipes until you find your favorite. It is also good to taste different flavors once in a while.
  • Be careful not to over smoke the food. You may not be able to control it the first time, but you will eventually master it.
  • Learn how to control the vents. It’s a bit of a challenge to find the right vent position when using a charcoal smoker but not so in an electric smoker. Keep the vents in your electric smoker open to prevent creosote from building up in the food.
  • Use aluminum foil on the grill grates for more straightforward cleaning of the smoker. The foil helps in keeping the racks free from grime and grease.

Conclusion

Learning how to smoke a ham in a electric smoker proved to be more comfortable than we thought. We just have to follow the recipe and your smoker’s manual to ensure hassle-free cooking. Although we have given you tips on how to use your electric smoker, reading a more comprehensive guide on how to use an electric smoker and how it works will help you become a pro no matter what you cook.

Check out our Smoked Ham FAQ article